World #1 and French Open champion Simona Halep will begin her campaign for a second Grand Slam title against Kaia Kanepi of Estonia. Halep lost in the first round at the US Open last year, but will be targeting a deep run this year to further secure her grip on the top ranking, though she is guaranteed to hold on to it regardless of her performance in New York. Kanepi, however, is an experienced veteran, and this match is no sure thing for Halep. Who will come out on top?
Halep and Kanepi have met once previously, in Doha in the round of 32. Halep won that match 6-4 3-6 7-6 and also holds the edge in experience. She has 18 titles to her name, including one Grand Slam. Kanepi, however, is not short in that department. She is a six-time Grand Slam quarterfinalist, including twice at the US Open, and has won four titles and 471 matches so far in her career, reaching a career-high ranking of world #15 in 2012.
Last time out
With the exception of a disappointing third round loss at Wimbledon, the past few months have been the best of Halep’s career. She won the French Open in May, defeating Stephens in the final, and then began her hard court campaign with a run to the title in Montreal, again defeating Stephens in the final. She then came to within a point of recording the Canadian Open-Cincinnati Masters double, but fell just short as Kiki Bertens battled back to win the final 2-6 7-6 6-2.
Kanepi suffered a disappointing first-round loss at Wimbledon to Spain’s Sara Sorribes Tormo, before travelling to Russia for the inaugural Moscow River Cup. But her form did not improve much as she lost in the second round to the Serbian teen Olga Danilovic who went on to win the title. Kanepi then began her hard court campaign in Cincinnati. She put together a good run to come through the qualifying and reach the second round where she lost to Ashleigh Barty.
How do they match up?
Simona Halep may well spend much of this match on the back foot for Kanepi brings serious firepower to the court. Fortunately, that is where the Romanian is most comfortable. Her movement and defensive skills are amongst the most impressive in the game and she excels at staying alive in a point even when under serious pressure. She is also capable of turning the point around with a single shot, particularly when extended on the forehand side.
Halep can also go on the attack when given time on the ball. Her forehand is superbly versatile and she hits her backhand down the line better than almost anyone. Kanepi will thus have to avoid both over-pressing and risking an unforced error count that is too high and being too passive which will allow Halep to dictate proceedings. She will also need her serve to be working, as it is the one area of the game where she has the advantage over Halep.
Kanepi played some good tennis in Cincinnati and might have been targeting a good run in Flushing Meadows. But against Halep it is hard to see her progressing. Halep has looked every inch the world #1 lately, and world #1’s don’t lose matches like this. Kanepi has the power to keep it interesting for a while, but eventually Halep’s consistency and accuracy from the baseline will wear her down. Expect a straight sets win for the world’s best.